Between 2000 and 2030 the global urban footprint will double,
mostly due to growth in developing nation cities. Urban carbon and resource
impacts cannot, must not double during this period. What can be done by
policymakers, the private sector, civil society and urban leaders to prevent
the unthinkable, a global climate and ecosystem incapable of supporting stable species
populations and food production?
A botched transition to the coming urban future will ensure
stresses far beyond our comprehension.
So, I will be addressing the Global Green
Cities Symposium in San Francisco Feb. 24 on “Enabling Future Global Green Cities.” In
my previous post I described how this event acknowledges a sense of urgency by taking
a novel approach to expert and cross-industry collaboration.
Clearly, cities in developing nations are the crux of the
matter: 90% of projected urban growth will occur in developing nation metros during the
next decades. By 2040, the developing nation urban sector will benefit from an
estimated total of more than $300 trillion in expenditures for the built
environment and transportation, both in infrastructure and operations. Increasingly
these city functions and services will be optimized to address both climate
change mitigation and climate change adaptation.
Before getting to the how, let’s address the issue of cities
on the basic level of benefits and risks.
Pros of increased urbanism:
- easier provision of lower-cost high-value services (healthcare, education, water, transportation, communications, commerce)
- enhanced cultural activities and opportunities
- urban economic innovation in global hubs benefit their surrounding rural regions, and especially national economies
Cons of increased urbanism:
- increased pollution and concentration of
wastes, congestion, urban-heat island effect
- negative social impacts which can include loss
of sense of community, isolation from nature and decreased safety and
security, exacerbated by a large-scale lack of affordable housing
- sprawled urban borders place natural resources
(agricultural land, habitat, fisheries, watersheds) at much greater risk
Beyond the pros and cons of urbanization, the populations
and economies of all cities are vulnerable to the increasingly severe impacts
of global climate change, including rising sea levels, flooding, winter storms,
drought and extreme heat events. Besides higher rates of death and
disease from climate change-induced environmental conditions, mass population
migrations are expected to occur in the not-distant future. From New Orleans
urban climate-related population diasporas have already begun.
Cities will need to
quickly begin shifting their spending from high-carbon intensity infrastructure
to green infrastructure that produces very low carbon emissions in production,
transport, implementation and maintenance.
Long-term and strategic action plans will be necessary to
guide capital toward infrastructure solutions offering attractive
returns on investment. Such returns can take many forms–reduced operating costs
(including reuse and disposal), low embodied and operating carbon emissions, lower air
and water pollution levels, and greater resource efficiency.
Global competitiveness may soon be defined in part by comparative carbon
emission rates. Low-carbon urban economies, for instance, will gain a decisive
edge over economies (urban, exurban or rural) that remain relatively heavy
per-capita carbon emitters. This competitive advantage will be gained not only
because of environmental and quality of life factors but also because of the
potential merger of international trade rules and carbon emissions regulations.
The OECD Mayors Roundtable in 2010
recommended that urban policy makers pursue integrated policy in three areas: the adjustment of firms to new sustainability related
business opportunities and energy volatility; enabling individual consumers or citizens to change their preferences
for products and services, and, finally; developing and effectively diffusing green
technologies in the marketplace.
Following are other leading strategies and recommendations
that will be covered in the United Nations “Shanghai Training Manual for
(In order to be more likely to succeed, multi-sector
collaboration and transparency will be required of each):
- New integrated, long-term and multi-scale models
for structuring, managing, measuring and financing city performance (e.g.,
World Bank Eco2 Cities program)
including life-cycle energy/ carbon, maintenance and capital cost management across
budgets, capital planning and large-scale investments. Early examples include Curitiba,
Brazil, and a Stockholm industrial district.
- Mega-region and regional planning approaches,
including those with “cascaded” micro-planning, such as Greater London (pdf).
- Community-based natural disaster management, such as the Dhaka example (pdf)
- Core ICT Planning and Strategy: With e-planning ICT can help cities avoid
high-carbon land use. Digital technology
makes it possible for cities to achieve lower carbon emissions from better planning
and management of infrastructure, buildings, energy and transportation. ICT can
provide valuable public access in communications and governance, such as Mumbai’s
- Public-private partnerships that are well constructed.
Early examples include South Korea’s Smart Grid 2030,
China’s Guangdong Province wastewater projects.
partnership agreements should be part of a transparent public
process that is beneficial to all parties, especially citizens.
- “In situ”
slum upgrading, versus indiscriminately tearing down slums. Vulnerabilities must be addressed for those slums that are located in areas
particularly at risk to climate change, such as flood plains and land subject
to severe storm erosion. The good news, however, is that most urban slums are high
density, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, made from recycled material, adaptive
to changing conditions and can be socially inclusive with strong neighborhood
Green urbanization has the potential to shape the 21st
century as much or more than earlier economic and technological advances. The
key difference between this trend and prior economic waves–transportation,
communications, energy, advanced materials and industrialization–will be the
use of integrated urban system approaches.
Bonafide global green cities will only be
fully realized through combined cultural, managerial and
technological innovation that is constantly guided by the active participation of the civil and
private sectors, academia and government.
Let’s all get busy…
Karlenzig is president of Common
Current. He is a fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, strategic adviser to
the Institute for Strategic Resilience and co-author of a
forthcoming United Nations manual on global sustainable city planning and